Day 3: Poo of the Sea Cucumber

Today we talked about sea cucumbers and how they are important to our oceans. There are over 1200 different species in the world and 31 of them call Palau home. If you want a snack, eight species can be eaten. An important ecological aspect about sea cucumbers is their poop. When sea cucumbers eat they take in organic matter within the sediment and poop out oxygenated nutrient-rich sand. This is really good for maintaining healthy sea grass habitats. In the past the sea cucumber were suddenly over harvested in Palau by foreign entities, with 84% depleted in one year, leading to Ebiil Society’s effort to protect and aid in their spawning.

We had an early morning to get out on the water around 8am in order to set up our surveying plot. In groups of two we paddle boarded out and measured the surveying field. Using measuring tapes we plotted out a large rectangle with 12 parallel lines, which were marked with stakes. Within this field we would later count the sea cucumbers along each line.

Morning Trials and Tribulations

We had the privilege of talking to Ms. Margie, a traditional fisherwoman, about the history of the Palauan fishing community, and the role of women in caring for and managing sea cucumber, clam and other nearshore resources. Traditionally women were the ones who knew the way to care for and manage this culturally significant resources . This process has allowed Palauans, particularly Palauan women to lead restoration efforts of the local sea cucumber population.

Ms. Ann (left) & Ms. Margie (right) discussing the history of local women fisheries.

Afterwards we had to wait for the tide to go out and come back in. Between the tides the entire area we were surveying became completely above water. During low tide some of us spent some time on the pier and had some cool drinks to help combat the heat. Then we had lunch and a longer delay than expected because the tides didn’t come back in for about an hour and a half longer than anticipated.

Big difference at low tide

Around 4:30 we were finally able to head back out to our plot in teams of 3 to survey the sea cucumber population. This delay ended up being really enjoyable because the temperature had been dropping steadily throughout the day and we were eventually able to see the sunset.

Timelapse drone imagery of sea cucumber monitoring. Imagery by Garrett Roberts

We had to snorkel along out parallel lines counting and identifying the sea cucumbers we’d come across such as the Molech and Ngimes, Palauan names for the Sandfish and Brown Curry sea cucumbers.

It was much more difficult than it looked, and the sun was setting fast. After breaking out the flashlights we were instantly humbled by the efforts the Palauan women would have gone to in order to harvest these vital poo-ers. Learning how to monitor the population of sea cucumber from Ebiil Society was an incredible experience and we all look forward to what tomorrow will bring.

Sunset Yoga

Today blog post written by: Emily Dye, Jacob Colvin, and Megan Haner

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